Sunday, February 23, 2014

Details, details

In 1977 I turned twelve. My parents had divorced when i was three, but Dad came to visit a few times despite the distance - my mother and brother and I lived in California, Dad in Alaska. Dad remarried, choosing a woman with two sons roughly the ages of my brother and me. Then he had another child, a daughter. For two years running Dad sent me and my brother tickets to join him and his new(er) family for a vacation in Hawaii. I have fond memories of the experience, even if my stepbrothers and I didn’t always get along; the little sister was five years younger, if I remember right, and a charming bundle of energy.

Lately I’ve been reading Barack Obama: the story, which is less a biography of Barack Obama than it is a collage of details, all sorts of people and places, with Obama (and his ancestors) weaving through them. Obama was born in Hawaii and spent most of his childhood there. He attended an elite school on Oahu called Punahou. This passage about the graduation ceremony connected with a couple of my own life’s details:

[S]eniors had to sing for their diploma. Since the end of April there had been six weeks of rehearsal for the entire class, mandatory … Classmates had written some of the songs and chosen the others. … One of the contemporary songs they performed was “This Day Belongs to Me” by Seals and Crofts, from the soundtrack of One on One, a Robbie [sic] Benson movie about Barry Obama’s favorite sport.

One on One was shown on the plane to (or from) Hawaii. I remember not wanting to see it because it was about sports, the sort of thing I hated at school and was quickly bored by as a spectator. A whole movie about basketball? Ugh. Plus wasn’t Robby Benson kind of funny-looking? But I remember liking the movie all right. I just looked up the song “This Day Belongs to Me” and it doesn’t sound familiar but it’s a pleasant ditty. I would have liked it as a kid, probably more than now. I bet it sounded just fine coming out of teen throats at Barry’s graduation.

Robby Benson is better looking than I remembered, but this scene I found on youtube makes me uncomfortable now with its calculated bullying by the authority figures and I’m sure it enraged me at the time. Surely Robby got his revenge?

source of quote: Barak Obama: the story by David Maraniss

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The dream that inspired Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain”

I recently read an interview with Peter Gabriel in Mojo Magazine. His big break-out album So has been rereleased with special features. I bought So when it was new and have listened to it many times. “Red Rain” was inspired by a dream. The lyrics allude to that dream:

I am standing at the water’s edge in my dream
I cannot make a single sound as you scream

But that’s as far as the song goes. In the interview Peter Gabriel describes the dream more fully:

The sea [was] parted by two walls. There were these glass-like figures that would screw themselves into each wall, fill up with red blood and then be lowered across the sand … to the next wall, where they’d unload the blood on the other side.

source: Mojo #238, September 2013

source for lyrics: azlyrics

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Links? Why “Links”?

When we visited Oahu last fall Kent and I drove past another one of those signs that announces the “Links,” by which we are to understand we are passing a golf course. Kent offered his version of the origin of the term - the holes are linked, therefore, the Links. While not without logic this explanation didn’t seem enough. But I didn’t remember to look it up. Nor have I on other occasions. So when I came across an explanation in The New Yorker, I had to show Kent. And now, I’ll show you:

[I]t’s actually a geological term. Linksland is a specific type of sandy, wind-sculpted coastal terrain - the word comes from the Old English hlinc, “rising ground” - and in its authentic form it exists in only a few places … the most famous … in Great Britain and Ireland. Linksland arose at the end of the most recent ice age, when the retreat of the northern glacial sheet, accompanied by changes in sea level, exposed sandy deposits, and what had once been coastal shelves. Wind pushed the sand into dunes and rippling plains; ocean storms added more sand; and coarse grasses covered everything. Early Britons used linksland mainly for livestock grazing.

When sheep graze linksland the result, apparently, is a lawn suitable for golf. The lawn-covered dunes provide gentle slopes and curves to knock a ball over. Nor, it seems, was there much competition for linksland. With all the sand under its thin topsoil, it’s no good for planting.

Golf, says the author “was permanently shaped by the ground on which it was invented.” The word for the kind of terrain on which the game is played has become a golf term.

source: “The Ghost Course” by David Owen
The New Yorker, April 20, 2009

Monday, February 17, 2014

“Language is not a diamond”

In introducing a translation of a work by Jose Manuel Prieto, Esther Allen says this:

Language … is not a diamond, its super-hard molecules permanently ordered in a fixed pattern … it is, rather, … inevitably illusory and impermanent, dissolving into an ungraspably fine powder when any determined will is brought to bear on it.

It’s fun riposte to those who believe there is only one way to say anything. And that goes for translation, too; there is more than one way to bring over meaning from one language to another.

source: Two Lines, vol. 16: Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed edited by Margaret Full Costa & Marilyn Hacker. 2009. The Center for the Art of Translation